Nestled atop Finca Filadelfia in Jocotenango, Guatemala is the tiny village of Mano De Leon. Like many other rural villages, Mano De Leon does not have electricity, running water, access to healthcare,drinking water or drainage. A generator is brought up to the village to pump water from the well each month. Although only 30 minutes from the thriving colonial city of La Antigua, the village is isolated from the rest of the world by a steep 5 km drive up a dirt road accessible only by 4-wheel drive vehicles, or on foot. There is no shuttle service and none of the residents have access to a vehicle.
Mano De Leon has one tiny school, Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta (EORM) Mano De Leon, with one teacher who teaches all students from grades 1 through 6. Classes are only held twice a week. Education in Guatemala is only mandatory through grade 6. Although secondary school is available, students need to pay for their own tuition, books, supplies and uniforms. For most rural families, the schools are too far away and the costs are too much. Thus there are very few education opportunities for the kids after the 6th grade. For the children of Mano De Leon, it seems like the only option is to work on the coffee farm earning less than $5 a day, like their parents and grandparents before them.
One of the organizations I met at the 2019 Foro Latinoamericano Conference in Antigua, Guatemala was Nuestros Pasos. The work of Nuestros Pasos started about 4 years ago when Bryan Mancill (a teacher from La Antigua) and Engineer Diego Romero walked an hour from the foot of the mountain to the community of Mano De Leon. When they arrived at the community, they played soccer with the children and just sat and listened to them talking about their dreams. The children inspired Bryan and Diego to form Nuestros Pasos as a way of helping the children of this lost village to pursue their dreams.
Nuestros Pasos has developed into a small group of local teachers and families who provide education support and grants for those kids who want to continue their education beyond Grade 6. In order to receive financial support, each child must have the passion and desire to attend school, must commit to walking 5 km down the steep hill to Jocotenango for school every morning…. and walking 5 km back up the hill after school. The walk in itself is not an easy task.
Nuestros Pasos is run solely by volunteers, and most of the tuition, books, school supplies, and uniforms are paid for by the volunteers and their friends. In addition to the financial support, Nuestros Pasos, through its volunteers, provides tutoring in math, science, language, English, accounting and any other subjects as needed in Mano De Leon every Saturday to help the students succeed in School. Visiting the village with “Profe” Bryan, I could see the impact Bryan had on not only the scholarship students, but on the entire village.
Two of the original students, Maria Juana Cuc and Eladia Cuc are an inspiration to us all, and seeing their dedication and success keeps the passion of Nuestros Pasos alive. The girls want to continue their studies because their dream is to one day become educators for the children of their community. Currently 10 children make the long walk to town every day, many of them with similar dreams and hopes as Maria and Eladia.
Although focused on education, Nuestros Pasos also hopes to provide the students of Mano De Leon with all the tools to succeed. Tools such as solar lighting so that the students can study at night, medical checkups, hygiene supplies, recreational activities, and transportation when needed.